Cheaters, it seems, always prosper

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The scribe who penned the following line describes himself as a tenure-tracked academic: “I have not been successful in getting most cheaters I’ve caught removed from the university, only one, and it was their forth time being caught in three years.”

I must assume from the author’s grammatical misadventure (surely not his or her “forth” time at a keyboard), which appears in a letter posted beneath an online CBC report on rampant cheating in Canadian universities, that he or she is not on any tenure currently tracking in any academic department relating to the teaching of English.

Still, perhaps there is some brutal symmetry in the Ivory Tower, after all. Pedagogues, it appears, can’t write; their students, meanwhile, evince no interest in learning when easier and more efficient options are plentiful.

“A CBC survey of Canadian universities shows more than 7,000 students were disciplined for academic cheating in 2011-12, a finding experts say falls well short of the number of students who actually cheat,” the broadcaster reported this week.

According to the piece, Julia Christensen Hughes, dean of the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, says, “There’s a huge gap between what students are telling us they’re doing and the numbers of students that are being caught and sanctioned for those behaviours.”

The survey data – which indicates that cheating is certainly systematic at universities across Canada, but not yet prevalent – seems to bear out her claims. Indeed, apart from underreported incidences of dissimulation, pupils at Atlantic Canada’s fine institutions of higher learning appear, at least officially, pretty clean.

The University of New Brunswick reported 33 cases of student plagiarism, or 0.3 per cent of the 10,000-strong student body. The University of Moncton reported 56 cases of plagiarism, or just under one per cent of the 6,000 student population. Crandall University fared slightly worse with 12 cases of plagiarism, or 1.5 per cent of its 1,000 student population.

Dalhousie University, a much larger institution than any of New Brunswick’s colleges and institutes, reported a broader suite of infractions – everything from plagiarism to “unauthorized aid”. Still, such cases only amounted to 1.3 per cent of its 18,000 student population.

Frankly, even if these numbers only scratch the surface, what’s truly shocking are some of the perpetrators’ attitudes.

The CBC quotes one student, speaking on condition of anonymity, thusly: “The professor left the room. I reached into my bag and I looked at some keywords to help me. I’d challenge anyone who can say that they haven’t broken the law. So for me to have cheated on an exam to get ahead in life, I think it’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing that could be done.”

Another was even more cold-eyed about his crime: “We just had to get it done. I had to get these assignments done and they had to be right.”

Like just about everything else in this cash-and-carry society, the university experience has been illegitimately commodified, packaged and gamed for any who can afford to pay for it on the down low.

Take, for example, essay writing services. These are not illegal, per se. But are they ethical?

That’s the question Richard Gunderman, an M.D. and PhD. at Indiana University, posed in the Atlantic magazine a hear ago. In his piece, “Write my essay, please!” he observed that “essay writing has become a cottage industry premised on systematic flaunting of the most basic aims of higher education. The very fact that such services exist reflects a deep and widespread misunderstanding of why colleges and universities ask students to write essays in the first place.”

He morosely concludes that “some students may question the very value of writing term papers. After all, they may ask, how many contemporary jobs really require such archaic forms of writing? And what is the point of doing research and formulating an argument when reams of information on virtually any topic are available at the click of a button on the Internet? Some may even doubt the relevance of the whole college experience.”

Of course, when teacher, himself, can’t string a few words together to save his academic bacon, you have to wonder whether the little cheaters are on to something.

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